Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Opinion writer

Retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, is one of the saner, more honest Republicans when it comes to the Russia investigation. He recently helped debunk the false conspiracy theory that a “spy” was implanted in the Trump campaign. Yet even he feels compelled to carry the president’s water, to color within the lines established by the White House and its state TV enablers at Fox News. On Sunday, Gowdy ludicrously claimed that the “only person in the universe” to have evidence of collusion is Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). The claim is akin to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s recent insistence that there is no collusion.

Gowdy, a lawyer and former prosecutor, knows that “collusion” is not a crime, has no agreed-upon definition in the context of the campaign and is not what Robert S. Mueller III was authorized to look for. Mueller was supposed to look for “any links/and or coordination” between Russians and Trump campaign associates. He has found it in spades, even if you count only the links and coordination that the media has discovered.

Max Bergmann, a former State Department official who heads the Moscow Project at the Center For American Progress Action Fund , tells me, “The evidence of collusion is clear and obvious. The Trump campaign met with the Russians with the expressed purpose to collude. ” He continues: “The June 9th meeting [at Trump Tower] was collusion — secret cooperation for an illegal purpose. It also showed that the Trump campaign wanted to collude. They wanted Russia’s help. And then what happened? Russia helped.”

The Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 is just the tip of the iceberg. Recall that there was also Roger Stone’s meeting with Henry Greenberg, who “offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton,” as The Post reports; Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos reached out for dirt from Russia on Clinton; another foreign policy aide, Carter Page, met with the Russian ambassador and gave a pro-Putin speech in Moscow; the RNC platform was changed while Paul Manafort was running the campaign to eliminate support for arms to Ukraine to fight off Russian invaders; Alexander Torshin, a former member of the Russian parliament, cultivated the National Rifle Association (which heavily supported Trump) and met with Donald Trump Jr. on at least one occasion; and Stone “was in contact with someone calling himself ‘Guccifer 2.0,’ who was leaking information stolen from the DNC in mid-2016. The Daily Beast reported . . . that Guccifer 2.0 had accidentally revealed his connection to the GRU by failing to mask his [Internet] activity on one occasion.” We have also learned Cambridge Analytica, Trump’s data firm, reached out to Julian Assange, head of the Russia cut-out, WikiLeaks.

I could go on, because there are some 80 different contacts and at least 23 meetings between at least 24 Trump associates and Russian operatives. Moreover, the president and numerous other Trump allies repeatedly and falsely denied such contacts. Trump went so far as to draft a misleading account to explain away the Trump Tower meeting.

Is this conclusive proof that Trump personally was on the phone with the Kremlin plotting strategy? Of course not. However, to say that there is no evidence — not a speck — that the Russians were in touch with Trump’s people or that Trump figures were eager to cooperate with Russians (and met with them for that expressed purpose) is blatantly false. Mueller’s 20 indictments and five plea deals suggest that Mueller has found ample evidence of illegality at the most senior levels of Trump’s campaign. The only issue is the extent of the cooperation and whether Trump knew about it. At worst, Mueller will have unearthed enough evidence to send the president’s former campaign CEO to prison for decades, if convicted on the slew of charges brought against him.

Over and over again, Republicans repeat the “No collusion” mantra as a way of preemptively discrediting the investigation. When Mueller comes out with his report detailing a list of Russian contacts the length of his arm, many of which are already publicly known, Gowdy and other Republicans might look as though they’ve been intentionally clueless and uninterested in getting to the bottom of the Russian plot to tilt the election in Trump’s favor.